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December 6, 2005

Supported Reading: Ambedkar Multimedia Study Environment


The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching & Learning (CCNMTL), one of the largest university centers devoted to creating new media education curricula, has been creating Multimedia Study Environments (MSE) for a number of years. During that time, they have taken a variety of written texts and transformed them into interactive digital texts. A few of them are open to the general public, including "The Annihilation of Caste."

This MSE explores the writings of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the first highly educated member of the Hindu "Untouchable" caste. Ambedkar's writings have extensive annotations in a variety of media, created by leading scholars from Columbia University. For example, early in the text, the word Hindu appears in the text. The term links its annotation, which includes: a definition relevant to Ambedkar's usage, a listing of every appearance for the word in the text, and video clips of leading scholars at Columbia giving further discussion on the term Hindu.

Links and multimedia are purposefully used to help clarify abstract terms for the novice reader and add details for the advanced reader. Further, the annotations themselves have hyperlinks to other parts of the site and to external resources. The annotations improve what glossaries and indexes have traditionally done. It makes much more intuitive sense to have annotations within a text, rather than at the bottom of a page or in the back of a book. This simple step of integrating the glossary and indexes into the text makes explicit the implicit idea that texts are part of a larger body of knowledge.

CCNMTL shows that basic web technology and interfaces can significantly increase the meaningfulness of a user's experience. This example shows that digital textbooks do not require the most sophisticated technology. Rather, strong visual and interaction design and well thought out content make this website a good model of how to support the exploration of new or familiar material.

Posted by ray cha at December 6, 2005 2:35 PM